In-depth Q&A: How will the UK’s hydrogen strategy help achieve net-zero?

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights bottom lines from the 121-page strategy and takes a look at a few of the main talking points around the UKs hydrogen strategies.

Hydrogen will be “crucial” for achieving the UKs net-zero target and could meet up to a third of the nations energy needs by 2050, according to the federal government.

On the other hand, company choices around the level of hydrogen use in domestic heating and how to ensure it is produced in a low-carbon method have actually been postponed or put out to assessment for the time being.

Experts have cautioned that, with hydrogen in short supply in the coming years, the UK needs to prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy market as capacity expands.

The UKs brand-new, long-awaited hydrogen method supplies more detail on how the federal government will support the development of a domestic low-carbon hydrogen sector, which today is essentially non-existent.

Why does the UK need a hydrogen strategy?

Its versatility implies it can be used to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy industry, however it currently struggles with high costs and low effectiveness..

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and percentage of last energy intake in 2050 (%). The central variety is based on illustrative net-zero constant situations in the 6th carbon budget impact assessment and the complete variety is based on the entire variety from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen technique.

However, as with many of the federal governments net-zero method documents so far, the hydrogen plan has actually been delayed by months, resulting in unpredictability around the future of this fledgling industry.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon spending plans and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in areas such as decarbonising heating and lorries need to be made in the 2020s to permit time for infrastructure and vehicle stock changes.

The plan likewise required a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the production of a hydrogen neighbourhood warmed with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to reduce dependence on gas.

Companies such as Equinor are pushing on with hydrogen developments in the UK, however industry figures have actually warned that the UK dangers being left. Other European nations have pledged billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

Prior to the new technique, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 included plans to produce five gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production capability in the UK by 2030. Currently, this capacity stands at practically zero.

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– most of which is presently made from natural gas– as a way for fossil fuel companies to keep the status quo. (For all the advantages and downsides of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs thorough explainer.).

Hydrogen growth for the next years is anticipated to start slowly, with a government goal to “see 1GW production capability by 2025” laid out in the strategy.

Hydrogen is extensively viewed as an important part in plans to attain net-zero emissions and has been the topic of considerable hype, with many countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery strategies.

In some applications, hydrogen will compete with electrification and carbon capture and storage (CCS) as the finest ways of decarbonisation.

Today we have actually released the UKs very first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our strategy to: kick-start a whole market unleash the market to cut costs ramp up domestic production unlock ₤ 4bn of personal capital support 9k tasks #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

As the chart below programs, if the federal governments plans come to fulfillment it could then expand substantially– making up in between 20-35% of the nations total energy supply by 2050. This will need a significant growth of infrastructure and skills in the UK.

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 envisaged by the technique is somewhat higher than set out by the CCC in its newest suggestions, but covers a similar variety to other studies.

The method does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the federal government is “conscious of a prospective pipeline of over 15GW of projects”.

There were also over 100 references to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, showing its potential usage in numerous sectors. It also includes in the commercial and transport decarbonisation methods launched previously this year.

In its new strategy, the UK government makes it clear that it sees low-carbon hydrogen as an essential part of its net-zero plan, and states it desires the nation to be a “global leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the role of hydrogen in powering market included a list of demands, mentioning that the federal government must “expand beyond its existing dedications of 5GW production in the forthcoming hydrogen strategy”. This call has actually been echoed by some industry groups.

The file includes an expedition of how the UK will expand production and create a market for hydrogen based upon domestic supply chains. This contrasts with Germany, which has been looking to import hydrogen from abroad.

What range of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

For its part, the CCC has actually recommended a “blue hydrogen bridge” as a helpful tool for accomplishing net-zero. It says permitting some blue hydrogen will minimize emissions faster in the short-term by changing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen offered..

Supporting a variety of jobs will provide the UK a “competitive advantage”, according to the government. Germany, by contrast, has said it will focus exclusively on green hydrogen.

The figure below from the consultation, based upon this analysis, reveals the effect of setting a threshold of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production methods above the red line, consisting of some for producing blue hydrogen, would be omitted.

In May, S&P Global Platts reported that Rita Wadey– hydrogen economy deputy director at the Department for Business, Energy & & Industrial Strategy (BEIS)– stated that, instead of “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon intensity as the primary aspect in market advancement”.

Jess Ralston, an analyst at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a declaration that the government should “be alive to the risk of gas market lobbying triggering it to commit too heavily to blue hydrogen therefore keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based innovation”.

At the heart of lots of discussions about low-carbon hydrogen production is whether the hydrogen is “green” or “blue”.

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by sustainable electrical power, while blue hydrogen is used natural gas, with the resulting emissions captured and stored..

However, there was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– including CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– mentioning that it relied on really high methane leakage and a short-term procedure of worldwide warming capacity that emphasised the effect of methane emissions over CO2.

The CCC has cautioned that policies need to develop both blue and green choices, “instead of just whichever is least-cost”.

This opposition capped when a current study caused headings stating that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the climate than coal”.

Prof Robert Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, informs Carbon Brief that, in his view, it is “probably a bit unhelpful to get too preoccupied with the green vs blue hydrogen argument”. He says:.

The chart below, from a document detailing hydrogen costs released alongside the main strategy, reveals the expected declining expense of electrolytic hydrogen in time (green lines). (This consists of hydrogen made using grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% sustainable.).

The new method mostly prevents using this colour-coding system, however it states the government has dedicated to a “twin track” technique that will include the production of both varieties.

It has also released an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which examines maximum appropriate levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the approach for computing these emissions.

The method specifies that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by particular innovations “depends on a series of assumptions, which can just be checked through the marketplaces response to the policies set out in this method and real, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided amount, different greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called … Read More.

” If we want to demonstrate, trial, begin to commercialise and then roll out using hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait until the supply side deliberations are total.”.

Short (hopefully) showing on this blue hydrogen thing. And then cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.

The CCC has actually previously defined “suitable emissions reductions” for blue hydrogen compared to fossil gas as “a minimum of 95% CO2 capture, 85% lifecycle greenhouse gas savings”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, various greenhouse gases trap different amounts of heat in the atmosphere, an amount understood as the global warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a method of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not just co2.

Comparison of price quotes throughout different innovation types at main fuel rates commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

The file does refrain from doing that and rather states it will supply “further detail on our production technique and twin track technique by early 2022”.


The former is essentially zero-carbon, however the latter can still lead to emissions due to methane leaks from gas infrastructure and the fact that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not capture 100% of emissions..

The CCC has actually formerly specified that the federal government must “set out [a] vision for contributions of hydrogen production from various paths to 2035” in its hydrogen technique.

Many scientists and environmental groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen given its associated emissions.

In the example selected for the consultation, natural gas routes where CO2 capture rates are below around 85% were omitted..

As it stands, blue hydrogen made using steam methane reformation (SMR) is the least expensive low-carbon hydrogen available, according to federal government analysis included in the technique. (For more on the relative costs of various hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

The federal government has launched a consultation on low-carbon hydrogen standards to accompany the technique, with a pledge to “finalise style elements” of such standards by early 2022.

The strategy notes that, sometimes, hydrogen used electrolysers “might end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon utilisation, storage and capture] -enabled methane reformation as early as 2025”..

How will hydrogen be utilized in various sectors of the economy?

Some applications, such as industrial heating, may be essentially difficult without a supply of hydrogen, and many professionals have argued that these are the cases where it ought to be prioritised, a minimum of in the short-term.

The new strategy is clear that industry will be a “lead option” for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “most likely” be necessary for decarbonising transportation– particularly heavy items cars, shipping and air travel– and stabilizing a more renewables-heavy grid.

Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the “miniscule” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the future and advised the federal government to pick its top priorities thoroughly.

So, my lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put usage cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of merit order, because not all use cases are similarly most likely to be successful. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

Low-carbon hydrogen can be used to do whatever from sustaining vehicles to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can feasibly be produced.

The committee stresses that hydrogen usage should be restricted to “locations less suited to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of market” and supplying versatility to the power system.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the strategy had “left open” the door for uses that “dont include the most value for the environment or economy”. She includes:.

The strategy likewise consists of the choice of using hydrogen in sectors that may be better served by electrification, especially domestic heating, where hydrogen has to compete with electric heat pumps..

Call for evidence on “hydrogen-ready” commercial equipment by the end of 2021. Require proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry “within a year”. Phase 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competitors in 2021.

” Stronger signals of intent could steer personal and public financial investments into those areas which add most worth. The government has not plainly laid out how to decide upon which sectors will gain from the initial organized 5GW of production and has instead mostly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.”.

It consists of prepare for hydrogen heating trials and assessment on “hydrogen-ready” boilers by 2026.

One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the federal governments concentrate on electrical cars, which numerous scientists consider as more economical and efficient innovation.

In the real report, the government said that it anticipated “in general the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be relatively low (<< 1TWh)".. The federal government is more optimistic about the use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen might be put to this use by 2035, as the chart below shows. " As the method confesses, there wont be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen beyond these minimal cases by 2035, as the chart below shows. The beginning point for the variety-- 0TWh-- recommends there is considerable unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the highest estimate is just around a 10th of the energy presently used to heat UK homes. Government analysis, consisted of in the technique, suggests possible hydrogen demand of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of blending it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035. Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen technique. This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero path, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling up to 90TWh by 2035-- around a 3rd of the size of the present power sector. Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually organised the use of low-carbon hydrogen into a "ladder", with existing applications-- such as the chemicals market-- provided leading priority. Protection of the report and government advertising materials emphasised that the governments strategy would supply enough hydrogen to change natural gas in around 3m homes each year. Commitments made in the brand-new method include:. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen strategy states that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Much will depend upon the development of feasibility studies in the coming years, and the governments approaching heat and buildings technique may likewise provide some clarity. Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- mixing "has no future". He discusses:. " I would recommend to go with these no-regret choices for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are currently readily available ... those must be the focus.". Finally, in order to create a market for hydrogen, the government states it will take a look at blending as much as 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and objective to make a last decision in late 2023. How does the federal government strategy to support the hydrogen industry? Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, clean development and climate change at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to provide long-lasting security to the market would be "really small" for specific households. The 10-point plan consisted of a promise to establish a hydrogen organization design to encourage private investment and an earnings mechanism to supply funding for the company design. Much of the resulting press coverage of the hydrogen technique, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the prepare for a hydrogen industry "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would originate from either greater expenses or public funds. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays costly compared to fossil fuel alternatives, there is uncertainty about the level of future demand and high threats for business aiming to go into the sector. Now that its strategy has been published, the government says it will gather proof from assessments on its low-carbon hydrogen requirement, net-zero hydrogen fund and business model:. Hydrogen demand (pink location) and proportion of last energy intake in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! Call for proof on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry "within a year"." As the technique admits, there wont be significant quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the federal government anticipates << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. The brand-new hydrogen method validates that this service design will be finalised in 2022, enabling the first agreements to be assigned from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been launched alongside the main strategy. " This will offer us a better understanding of the mix of production technologies, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in need, and the function that brand-new technologies could play in attaining the levels of production essential to satisfy our future [sixth carbon spending plan] and net-zero dedications.". These agreements are developed to conquer the expense space between the preferred technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen manufacturers would be given a payment that bridges this space. Sharelines from this story. According to the federal governments news release, its favored model is "constructed on a similar premise to the overseas wind contracts for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut costs of new overseas wind farms.